THE NORMAN CONQUESTS Round and Round the Garden

A play by Alan Ayckbourn

Directed by Matthew Warchus.

The audience at this Old Vic production is swollen with the reedily mature as well as the well-heeled and sporadic younger theatrical aficionado.

No wonder.

"The Norman Conquests" was penned in 1973, but is still comfortingly timely. Round and Round the Garden, one part of three cyclical plays, loops in and out of the foibles of men and women in affairs de coeur or if-only! affairs. ITE (In This Economy, a current handy initialization going the rounds with which any financial guy worth his Sell-order should be acquainted), this good-natured and superbly acted romp is catnip to the down in the mouth or financially troubled. Better than a stretch on the chiropractor's table. Or an inhalation of ozone. This is a blueprint for a laff-factory, to be safely enjoyed by the entire demographic of theatre-goers.

Ayckbourn has been in the play biz since 1959, pouring out an astounding 69 comedies (revues, one-acts, children's plays, adaptations, Grey Plays) in that half-100–trumping all but a very very few playwrights. Even the world's reigning playwright laureate, Tom Stoppard, has put out only 24 acknowledged knockouts. (Stoppard's younger than Ayckbourn, however.)

In this romp, one of a triple cycle that may be seen in any order–Round and Round the Garden; Living Together; Table Manners–you get charmingly quirky and beyond-witty performers hopping and cavorting onstage, in-the-round style, as are all Circle In the Square productions. The gifted Ayckbourn–a Brit whose mid-career play, which went on to score phenomenal success and became an equally sensational comic movie we were invited to angel, but dumbly! incomprehensively! opted not to–forces you to laugh even if you come in dour and depressed.

Six amazing British actors under the standout direction of Matthew Warchus, amuse, command the amusing garden stage, titillate and delight for two hours. There's not an eyedropper's worth of the world outside, the roller coaster in the markets, the wars asea, the brutal price of Haagen-Dazs. Love, infatuation, cement-headed swains, and the foibles of marriage to difficult spouses conk you with willing suspension of disbelief and immersion in silly. It is expert acting, delirious scripting, spot-on comic-lode direction.

And for the (wise and timely) investor, since you are a shoo-in to attend the other two once you are beguiled and tickled by this one, it is a fiscal bonanza. The plays go on in a round robin of performances, so you can see them all in a day or so, or stagger them for three days of literate, aerating hilarity.

Every viewer will probably grab two more tickets to glom the entire cycle of Old Vic surprises, goofy interactions and whompin' lies.

Table Manners: Events of the weekend as seen from the dining room. Living Together: Events of the weekend as seen from the sitting room. Round and Round the Garden: Events of the weekend as seen from the garden.





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